The race against racism

Sir Lewis Hamilton – by far the standout name on the recently published New Year’s Honours list. Following his recent Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) award, the accolades are stacking up for the British F1 driver.

The SPOTY award has long eluded a curiously unpopular Hamilton, despite the fact that before his record-equalling Formula One World Championship title in 2020, he already had six to his name. His recent dominance within the sport has become somewhat of a routine, so one might ask: what was the difference this year that propelled him towards these two glorious honours? The answer lies in an all too familiar issue – the work he has done in the fight against racism, striving for equality and diversity, in the sport and beyond.

So often leading races from the front (quite literally), Hamilton knew that it would be the most impactful if it was him who picked up the mantle that needed to be filled in the summer. George Floyd’s death on 25th May 2020 had invoked a Black Lives Matter movement with momentum unheard of for decades, and Hamilton used his influence as the only black F1 driver as directly as possible. Wearing masks and t-shirts drawing attention to police brutality and the unjust murder of Breonna Taylor highlights his refusal to simply be an F1 driver, alongside his active decision to take a knee and show solidarity with the oppressed before each race.

Hamilton’s motives are deep-rooted, with Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff describing his proactivity in previous years, starting conversations about internal diversity and explicitly flagging up issues surrounding the shortage of minority mechanics employed by the team. Hamilton’s world domination in the context of being the sport’s only black driver has no doubt motivated him to inspire other young fans into believing that anything is possible, no matter your background, as he emotionally re-iterated on the team’s radio following his World Championship victory in Turkey. However, the individuality of his actions has only exacerbated the sport’s clear lack of unity behind such an important cause.

Whilst Premier League football has normalised the gesture of taking a knee, seven F1 drives – which equates to 35% – have refused to join Hamilton in his pre-race demonstrations. Such a global sport, which involves personnel from over six continents, displaying this awkwardly detached sense of social awareness is not only damaging to its reputation, but also a sign of where the genuine problems lie. With an entirely male driver line-up, including many who have family connections in the F1 hierarchy, there are already enough reasons why the sport is inherently restrictive – and its failure to stand with its champion in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter cause only worsens its image. Within the context of social issues, perhaps unsurprisingly, F1’s infamous partnership with Bahrain has long come under fire for the sport’s hierarchy turning the blind eye to its dismal human rights violations. As F1 welcomes a new CEO in 2021, Stefano Domenicali, the man must surely look into these issues to reshape the sport into an inclusive, diverse environment in which anyone can succeed. 

Whilst there are many rumours that Hamilton’s retirement is on the horizon, it is perhaps more important than ever that he remains in the sport and continues to fight for equality. Hamilton admitted this year’s victory felt different, given the added motivation of his unerring desire to utilise his platform for good. These feelings no doubt leave him hungrier than ever to pursue his goal and ensure anyone can enter the sport – regardless of race or background – in any capacity, be it a mechanic, driver or CEO. His efforts in 2020 have sealed Lewis Hamilton’s legacy, not only in his records and titles but as a role model who leads by example by tackling systemic issues in a sport that needs it more than ever.

Rishi Shah 

Featured Image source: Unsplash